Earthquakes and Tsunamis
When two lives are split asunder, especially as in divorce, it could be compared to an earthquake. Unfortunately, if there are any little islands around – perhaps as in children? – they are swept up in the following tsunami.
Unfortunately, other than those situations where kids are removed from an abusive parent and some other exceptions, children of divorced parents have a tough time sorting through the wreckage of the physical and emotional tsunami caused by their parents’ earthquake divorce.
Research shows that while around four-fifths of parents feel that their divorce was a good thing, more than one-half of the kids from divorced homes do not regard their parents’ divorce as improvement, often thinking it worse.
The Baggage of Disaster
When disaster victims are forced from their homes, they grab what they can carry. When children of divorce leave a household, they are required to grab their clothes, toys, and books. They also end up carrying a bunch of emotional baggage and may carry it around for much of their lives.
That emotional baggage can manifest itself in many different ways and in many different extremes, but is usually experienced in two somewhat related behavioural approaches to life:
• A need to make everything right. Of course, this need to make things right starts when the pre-divorce tremors are felt – heated arguments, a parent cold-shouldering the other, extended absences of a parent, etc. During and after the divorce, this quest for everything to be right can spill over into the development of extremely conservative social and moral views. It can manifest itself in almost compulsive attempts to keep things neat and clean. It can even manifest itself in the opposite direction; a child of divorce may even feel that having things messy is the way to make things right – a reflection of the parents’ messy relations. Another result can be the loss of a role-model, who is otherwise okay, because that adult, one parent or the other or even another significant adult, did not make things right. Maybe the worse result occurs when the child feels unable to make things right by themselves, so the child feels at fault, which can cause a significant loss in self-esteem.
• A fear of any relationship commitment. Children of divorced parents have problems with relationships at school and elsewhere for fear of failure, especially if children are relocated. As they grow, these children carry the distrust of relationships into their own friendships, marriages, and even business relationships. Many simply seem to be apprehensively waiting, consciously or even subconsciously, for betrayal and failure in relationships. Many also end up forging only uncommitted or shallow relationships, some even choose to become the “loners” we encounter.
Divorce Disaster Relief for Children
Divorced parents should realise that their children, young and powerless as they may be, are still big participants in the divorce process. They should especially understand that the children are experiencing extreme emotional discomfort during some of their most important developmental stages. Though parents are very concerned with their own emotions and objectives, they should not forget to help their kids stay afloat during the divorce tsunami in these five ways:
• Inform. Children don’t need to know every ugly detail. They are, however, very perceptive and need explanations as to why things are happening as they are. Tell them how divorce may affect their future.
• Guide. Divorcing parents need to carry themselves with dignity as role models. They must teach that acting responsibly even when times are tough is the best way to go.
• Repair. Cynicism is a big bad lesson in divorce. Parents should make it clear that just because the present relationship didn’t work out, the future holds many bright promises.
• Occupy. Idle minds think strange things. When parents are going through tough times, they should turn to the children to pick up some household slack, making them a vital part of keeping the pre- and post-divorce household functioning as normally as possible.
• Watch. Though distracted by the many issues involved in divorce, parents should keep an eye on children. Negative or harmful behaviour, depression, or drug and alcohol abuse need to be dealt with quickly.
The Sun Always Comes Up
Face it, divorce is a negative, messy experience. Parents and children will accumulate a lot of negative baggage. However, with a little care and compassion, most end up doing pretty well after the disaster of divorce.
Jane Bongato is part of the team behind Open Colleges, Australia’s provider of child care training. Jane is an early childhood educator with a background in Psychology and closely works with children who have special needs for about 6 years now. She enjoys reading, painting or meeting friends during her spare time.